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Gov’t defends NGO draft law

Sok Sam Oeun, legal expert and president of the Cambodian Defenders Project, speaks yesterday during discussions between the government and NGOs on the new draft of the NGO law.

There was a degree of exasperation on the part of Ministry of Interior officials during  nearly two and a half hours of open-floor discussion with civil society about the fourth generation of the draft law on associations and NGOs.

“If the NGO law violates the Constitution, show me the points,” Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, who is also the Minister of Interior, said at the forum’s opening yesterday.

Civil society had only one more week in which to provide its views and feedback on the fourth generation of the draft law on associations and NGOs before the law was finalised, Ministry of Interior officials said yesterday.

About 200 government and civil society representatives attended the open half-day forum at the Ministry of Interior to air concerns about the fourth generation of the draft law.

“We are having a wide discussion on this law, more than on any other laws – for example, the Demonstration Law,” the Deputy Prime Minister said.

“If you want to have rights and freedoms, than those things must be written in law,” Sar Kheng told the forum. “When I follow you, I am wrong, but if I don’t, I am still wrong.”

National Assembly draft law committee member Chheang Vun said it was the responsibility of the government to create a registration protocol for the associations and organisations operating in the Kingdom.

“We need to respect the rights and obligations of each other,” former UN ambassador Chheang Vun said. “We cannot immediately inform you which of your comments we accept and which we reject.

“Do not abuse this opportunity or lose this opportunity.”

Key concerns of those attending the forum included the cap on salaries for foreigners, situations in which an association or NGO can be dissolved, and burdensome obligations for commune and sankgat chiefs.

Cambodian Defenders’ Project president Sok Sam Oeun pointed out that the latest draft’s limit on “administrative expenses”, including all salaries, would seemingly be too low to attract and recruit professionals such as lawyers.

“With a 25 per cent cap, you will not be able to pay these professionals,” he said.

Soy Kosal, of the National Alliance of Communes and Sangkats, said the draft put too big  a burden on the shoulders of commune and sangkat chiefs.

“At the commune and sangkat level, they are required to take all the written notice of all the organisations in their community,” Soy Kosal said.

“There need to be clear roles and measures for the communes and sangkats in handling this responsibility. Otherwise, it is too big a challenge.”

Officials from the Ministry of Interior closed the forum with an open invitation to receive further written comments and feedback over the next week.

After these comments had been assessed, there would possibly be further consultations, they said.



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